Shooting A Million-Dollar 935 With A $22 Lens

Photography has many different meanings depending on who you are. For most, it’s a medium that’s consumed with an ever decreasing regard for how these images got in front of our faces. For others, it’s a way to have fun, to challenge oneself, or simply a creative outlet. And for a few, it’s a way to score some extra cash on the weekend or to pay your bills. As you might have gathered, this is mostly a post about photography, but everything I’ve said applies to cars too, both in factory design and the aftermarket.

The automobile carries a different meaning for everyone, as does a photo. Regarding the car in question, Canepa has already given a detailed account on the Bob Akin ‘Super GTP’ 935 L1 Le Mans car, so if I was to talk too much about the Porsche, it’d really just be plagiarism.

Right, so, on to the lens in question. Since my superiors have done a story (or two) using 50mm lenses, I thought I’d do the same. Well, almost…


The Helios 44-2 is a Soviet Union-made M42 screw-mount f/2.0 lens with a focal length of 58mm. My understanding is that as the Soviets expanded into Eastern Europe after World War II they took control of several lens factories, including ones which produced Zeiss glass.


Thus, you can think of the Helios 44-2 as a replica of the ‘East German Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm f/2.0′ lens. Being a communist government, they were, unsurprisingly, poorly versed in the science of optics. Due to this, the Helios 44-2 comes with a manufacturing defect, resulting in a distinct swirly bokeh effect. I say this is the reason I bought it, but it’s probably more 60/40 because it says ‘Made In USSR.’


Regardless of my motives, I scored the lens on eBay for $22, plus an M42-EF adaptor that I think was $12, or maybe $8. Still, in at under US$40 shipped it’s something you can pick up without feeling guilty.


It’s a small bit of kit, so I often sneak it into my bag even though it isn’t super useful. If Canon ever releases a proper full-frame mirrorless — cue internal screaming — I think this would be a lot of fun for street photography and that sort of thing too.


From time to time I find it fun to use on older cars, hoping for a vintage feel out of the camera. Mostly, it works pretty well; the colors that come through are a bit off, there are some odd aberrations and glow, and you can sort of see the swirly bokeh thing going on.


As odd as it might sound, the example I picked up doesn’t seem to have the defect quite as much as I’d like. I may pick up another, but it’s fun to play with the manual focus and always satisfying when you get a decent result.


While these images won’t win any awards, I probably had more fun shooting this oddly distinct car with this oddly distinct lens than anything else I did at Canepa earlier this week. I even snuck a few shots with the Helios into the main story from the visit and no one’s flamed me for them sucking (yet).


My wife got in on it too, although she seemed more interested in the forest outside than the Group 5 Lancia Beta Monte Carlo parked across from the 935.


There’s just so much cool stuff at Canepa, it’s crazy.


Most of the rest of my visit I stuck with my trusty 35mm f/1.4 and other auto-focusing lenses, but I couldn’t help but sneak the 44-2 on here and there.


As with shooting film, the images you create with vintage glass tend to have more character than their modern counterparts. And, trust me, the irony of purposely trying to capture ‘worse’ images using a DSLR is not lost on me.


If you really want to make the engineers — who have worked thousands of hours to make the process of capturing crispy, true-color images easy — feel bad, throw a monkey wrench into your white balance. Or don’t, the options are endless.

You can shoot with a $4,000 50mm f/1.0, a $1,000 50mm f/1.2, a $300 50mm f/1.4, or a $100 50mm f/1.8. You’ve probably noticed a trend here, and it ends with a $20 58mm f/2.0.

The point is, you don’t need to break the bank to have a good time. Photography doesn’t always have to be a serious thing. If you’re thinking about a new lens, try adapting cheap film glass.

Just make sure it says ‘Made In USSR’ or you’ll wish it did.

Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto



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Matthew Everingham


Good times!


Heads up Nikon just announced two Mirrorless Full frame cameras ;). Btw nice shots.


I know, and Canon has one or two in the works. I haven't been paying attention, all I care about is when they're kn the market lol. I probably won't want to afford one anyway, and pick up a 1D mark II or something instead if those are cheaper by then.


Nice photos! If you have a good body/sensor, almost any lens can take great photos?


Thanks! Yeah, anyone who pretends gear doesn't matter is lying. But even a cheap body and a lens like this will produce decent results. If nothing else, it'll be fun.


Agree. I had some decent results with a first gen Sony alpha (not mine), but the sensor and slow focus were relatively bad. But once you have a shot locked in, it comes out nice. Fixed lenses are also great for experimenting.

Keep the good shots rolling in ;)


I have the same lens :) I like to shoot cars with it from time to time, although I have crop sensor camera which make it more like 90mm.
Anyway great photos and article! Plus honestly somehow I like those "imperfect" images better :)


Awesome to see the Helios 44 being used here at Speedhunters! I have been using these lenses for my automotive photography over the past 8 to 9 years now and I'm truly amazed by it's performance for such a low price. Unfortunately the prices also have increased in the past 5 years: 8 years ago I could pickup one for less than 10 euros, but they cost well above 40 euros in the Netherlands nowadays.

The bokeh effect is the best part of the lens, but it's kind of random whether it works out well. I also own a Helios 77M, which is the 50mm f1.8 variant of the 44, and this lens makes better and sharper photos but the bokeh effect happens more rarely. You can find some of my 77M photos on Flickr:

Coincidentally I was at Canepa two years ago and shot most of their museum cars using the combination of the 77M, a Jupiter 9 and a Mir 1b. I haven't uploaded those photos anywhere though. :(


My 1st thought was jump on Ebay and grab one before this article makes the prices go up even more. Great article and Great shots.


Nice shots! The 77M has been recommended to me as well, although with a 50mm 1.4 I haven't really had a purpose for it since it's a bit more conventional in how it captures the light anyway.

I have a 135 f/2 I got for about $30 adapted that I should do a story with. I've only used it for portraits.


Nice currently using old Nikon MF lenses (50/1,4 a-is, 105/2,5 a-is and 25/2,8 a-is) and those are brilliant and best part is that they are all Fmount since Jesus first brings up his sandals :D so you don't need adapters just set your camera into full manual and there you are:)) and be aware the rabbit hole of using old lenses are so deep and you'll fall into so fast. those was shoot with 35$ nikkor 50/14 a-is


Cool shots, cheap glass is where it's at!


On the subject of full frame mirrorless cameras, the temptation lately to swap out a 5D for an A7RIII with a Metabones adapter for slow and static work is almost unbearable.

Also, can't believe we've got this far into the comments without a 'In Russia, camera shoots you'. For shame.


Don't go to the dark side!


Truly a missed opportunity there.

My problem is I picked up the A7ii with a metabones and it made me want to stab my eyes out. Great sensor, but the useability was so poor that it's made me not consider Sony as an option anymore. On Sony, battery shoots you... also, $$


Trevor and Paddy, I'd really like to try my hand at photography. All I've done thus far is play with the settings on GT6 figuring out what fstop and exposures do. What affordable camera do you guys recommend? Swirly Bokeh should be a band name.


Check out the old photography guides on here:

That's actually how I got started and picked up a Canon 40D as suggested there. Now, I would think a 60D or 80D would be a decent starting point, and old full frames like the original 5D and 5Dmk ii even are really affordable.


Thanks, I've been reading the guides this a.m. and the camera hunt is on now.


A used xxD is a great starting point. Feels like a real camera (I find the xxxD to be too small) and leaves a lot of room for you to grow as well.


Thank you, camera hunting has commenced.


+1 skip rebel series - they're junky. The xxD will last you a long time and give you something to grow into.


Thank you for that, the rebel was the only camera ad I could recall (I'm 34) so you may have helped me dodge a bullet.


Well done Trevor, really liked this one!
I totally agree, use what you have and make it work!

I personally don't understand the mirrorless craze. Yes I see the benefits and performance, but I prefer OVF over EVF. The tiny mirrorless cameras I don't find very ergonomic. Also what I use my gear for 95% of the time weight isn't an issue.


Honestly I wouldn't get one right away anyway, but having a lightweight, small bosy would be great for people shots at an event or for wandering around a museum or something.

And there are other benefits too, as I'm sure you know. It'll be a long time before a mirrorless replaces my DSLR track side, though.


I tried an entry level for awhile - thought I'd use it for traveling/street because of the size and weight. I just didn't like it. I found it was much better to just slim down my current weapons - remove the grip from the 6d and only bring 1 lightweight lens such as my 40mm f2.8.
I think my next trip I'm just going to use my Elan 7 with the 40mm.

For your next challenge - instant film?


See, I made the same mistake. You need to go all in if you're going to do it. The higher end models have fixed a lot of the shortcomings of the entry level stuff.

The real reason I want Canon to make a proper mirrorless is that my friend with a 1Dx II will sell me it once a FF Canon mirrorless hits the market haha.

I've lately lightened my bag too, and really need to pick up a 24-70 instead of all the primes i have.


I had a friend switch to sony mirrorless and swooped in to get the nice canon gear too haha.

I love primes too much to switch to 24-70, but the temptation is there.


This has probably already been asked to death but I was curious which camera you used to take these?


All the shots here are on a 5Diii, except the one my wife took which was with a 7Dii


Love it. I recently bougth a rokkor md 50mm f1.8 and i really like the atmosphere it gives to the shots.

Max @ghettoporsche

Just like Ben Chandler's article "Why simple cars are best", this is just brilliant.
You really hooked me with the headline. Normally I'm not that much into camera gear related articles, eventhough I maybe should. Whoopsie.
I'm using a 50 Euro Chinesium 50mm lense. It is kinda noisy and kinda rattly but it does the trick.

By the way: nice anti capitalist propaganda, how to have fun without money, while using a soviet camera lense... I see what you did there :D

I really enjoyed reading your article and hope you like reading positive feedback!
I know that I like it ... no feedback is the worst :D

За твоё, товарищ!


Haha yes, thanks man! Enjoy that fifty. Is it a Yongnuo?

Max @ghettoporsche

Yes, it is :D

Max @ghettoporsche

As I just noticed, I'm not really capable translating something into russian language.
За твоё здоровье!


I get the whole "made in ussr" thing
I have an old crusty looking 19/22 double ended spanner with Made in the ussr on it and it puts a smile on my face every time I use it


Glad to see cheap old lenses get some recognition. Even with my fancy D600, I still use manual focus lenses. Mainly a 60s-era 85 1.4 and 50 1.4 I also carry my 24mm around as well. The first pic is from the 85mm and the second is the 24mm The 24mm does exhibit some vignetting in certain occasions, but for the 20$ years ago, it is worth it. I still pull out my russian contaxt copies from time to time.


The fascination with the freezed image is what counts.
I am just an aficionado of photography, must of my fantasies are captured with my cellphone, however, the more i learn about some technicalities, the more I want a semiprofesional camera to go further, and visit Speedhunters is by far one of the best sources of info and details.
The images here are great, because the details of the lens, obligated you to imagine the result while you are taking the image and you were playing with the light, and that is part of the artistic process.


Now in Russia new Zenit Helios 40-2C 85 mm F1.5 for Canon have similar price to Samyang 85 F1.4.


The photography you guys and girls produce is AMAZING!

It inspired me to take out my DSLR and use it to capture more of our world.

THANK YOU for making still images even more powerful!